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I have zero problem with a group of states coming together to adopt a common set of expectations for the students in their respective school systems. Looking at the Common Core standards themselves, they appear to organize the content and skills students need in a logical and coherent way. It is even possible that they are better than the standards that states had prior to their adoption.
But, adopting quality standards is miles away from leveraging them to improve instruction. On that count, I am increasingly inclined to believe that the Common Core will do more harm than good.
The standards themselves were adopted in a mad dash for federal cash. They were announced on June 2, 2010, and within only two months, 28 states had adopted them (Kentucky actually adopted the standards before they were released!). One would think that states would need a little more time to make sure that they (a) agreed with the content of the standards and (b) had a reasonable plan to implement them, but most of these states were competing in the Department of Education’s Race to the Top program, which put 70 of its 500 points on developing and adopting common standards and assessments.
The second half of those promises, agreeing to participate in the consortia developing tests for the standards, is where states really got themselves in trouble. Signing up involved promising that states would purchase the tests and upgrade their technological infrastructure to administer them (both consortia are developing computer-based, not pencil and paper, tests). When the price points were announced in 2013, the $30 per student price tag was greater than what half of the states participating in the consortia currently pay. This caused Georgia, which currently spends about a third of the consortia price on testing, to leave its consortia that day. Upgrading technology also represents serious costs for states, many of which have only come to light recently. Just last month, Maryland announced it would need $100 million to get schools up to speed to administer the tests.
Promising to adopt new standards and new tests also has a profound impact on the school and teacher evaluation systems that rely on those tests as their primary metrics. As Dr. Morgan Polikoff of USC convincingly argued recently, a fair reading of the research literature finds that standards-based accountability has improved American education over the past two decades. By hastily shoehorning the Common Core into both school and teacher accountability systems, the Common Core risks undermining both.
We are already seeing serious pushback in New York, and teachers and school leaders will have a strong case for opposing the standards in numerous states that haven’t worked out coherent plans to transition from their current standards to the Common Core while maintaining the integrity of their evaluation systems. This risks derailing policies that have improved education.
Mike McShane is a research fellow in education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
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Common Core Meets Education Reform: What It All Means for Politics, Policy, and the Future of Schooling
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